Waka Flocka, Method Man, and the Legacy of Lyricism

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AllHipHop.com or its employees and affiliates. Even if it’s crap, mind your own business/ They raps ain’t got no gift like a lonely Christmas/ —MF Doom, “No Names (Black Debbie),” The Mouse and the […]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed

here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the

views and opinions of AllHipHop.com or its employees and affiliates.

Even if it’s

crap, mind your own business/

They raps ain’t

got no gift like a lonely Christmas/

—MF Doom, “No

Names (Black Debbie),” The Mouse and the

Mask (2006).

“I ain’t got nothing to do with lyrics. I

don’t have time for lyrics. That’s why I don’t trip when ni**as be like, ‘Man,

shawty can’t rap.’ The ni**a that everyone say is lyrical—they ain’t got no

shows. I been on tour for the last two years. I didn’t get into rap to

freestyle. I don’t even care about selling records; as long as I get them shows

for $15,000 four to five days out the week, I’m happy.” So went the diatribe of

Atlanta rapper and Gucci Mane protégé Waka Flocka Flame in a Shade 45 interview

roughly three weeks back.

Too bad Waka’s bio sings a different

tune. “The surname, Flame,” his record label Mizay Entertainment ensures, “encompasses

Waka’s ability to deliver hot lyrics like fiery flames from the mouth of a

dragon.” Once a flame-flinging rhyming hybrid, now a detester of everything

lyrical. What gives, Waka?  

A couple of days back, Hip-Hop legend

Method Man issued

an apology

to temper his harsh but accurate response leveled at Waka on

Sirius Satellite Radio. Meth apologized for swinging “out of context,” but

hardly anything in his initial response rubs off inappropriately: “[T]he people

that are in the know and know what time it is, know that if you ain’t saying

s**t out your mouth, your time is very slim in this motherf**king game.” It is

true that the times are a-changing, and the death rattles for the age of

Auto-Tune have begun blaring. It is true that fans, as I’ve discussed with

several columns on this site, don’t take lightly anymore to the ephemeral,

one-hit wonderization of Hip-Hop in recent years—engineered by once giant

record labels now nursing their knees from forced submission to reality. So, I

think, for the good of Hip-Hop, Method Man might want to rescind his apology.

Yes, it reopens old wounds of “Old School v. New School” and “Old v. Young,”

but certain comments merit harsh blowback, and Waka’s certainly did.

In his follow-up interview, Waka refused

to return fire with Method Man (smart choice), acknowledging Method Man’s place

in Hip-Hop history, but urging older rappers to “adapt” to the new wave blowing

southward. Waka interrogated history to suggest the East Coast elitism we hear

so much about unfairly debases certain (Southern) artists while exalting

others. Onyx was making Crunk Music with no complaints, Waka protested. And at

the incipient of Hip-Hop, the rhyme schemes betrayed a simplistic pattern not

unlike the kind Southern rappers currently catch hell and brimstone for, he

added. It pains me to write this of another Black man, but Waka’s logic-leaps

expose the shallowness from which his initial comments emerged. By this

measure, Public Enemy is no different from Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boyz, and

Kool Moe Dee might as well be mistaken for Fabo from D4L.

Today, lyricism is the AIDS of Hip-Hop.

Young rappers (and some older ones) want nowhere to be found near a lyrical

rapper or MC—for fear of contamination, and subsequent public censure. And

those with rhymes like dimes would rather not come forthright; they would

rather hide what talent they possess, and only fess up when pushed up against

the wall from insurmountable circumstances. But a select few don’t mind

standing strong for the slimming minority of rappers and MCs proud to acknowledge

their skills. Yes, I know my petty and opportunistic analogy here might offend

some—especially those weakened by the deadly fangs of the HIV virus—but a

method controls this madness.

Waka says lyrical artists only have

zero-less bank statements to show, but he must have missed Lupe Fiasco, a

skilled, diligent, super-lyrical MC whose talents only fall short of his

ability to border-cross into different worlds and make a desirable living.

Waka’s grasp of Hip-Hop must also deliberately ignore the success of his

toughest critic, Method Man, who after two decades remains a dominant force in

the Hip-Hop world and beyond for building a creatively distinct lyrical legacy

that even the late B.I.G. nodded to on Ready

to Die. Waka’s thinking, regrettably, marks a paradigm shift, a consciousness

drift that, yes, while not limited to the younger Hip-Hop generation, hardly

ever finds refuge on the lips of artists over 35.

Scared of a

bunch of water, then get out the rain/

Order a rapper

for lunch and spit out the chain/

Jay Smooth, host of the popular video

blog ill Doctrine, made my day with

his three-minute

commentary on the capitalism-driven downfall of lyricism. Only a few years

back, lamented Smooth, taken for granted was the assumption that rappers “were

supposed to be good at rapping.” But in an age when presidency-seeking

politicians need hand notes to recall fundamental ideological talking points

like “Energy,” “Budget Cuts,” and “Lift American Spirits,” perhaps not even

young rappers deserve bags of cements showered upon them for refusing to take

the craft of—!—rapping critically.

“Nowadays, talking about a rapper

having skills is like calling a refrigerator an ice box—just one of those cute

little things that old people say.” Behind this sentiment is the fear—however

unfounded—that lyrical virtuosity might “hold you back.” No kidding. And for

all the rocks purists and neo-purists alike have already palmed to hurl at Waka

and those with whom he finds commonality, recent trends in the Hip-Hop

marketplace—the popularization of ringtones; the flourishing of Auto-Tune; the

tumbledown of album sales—give ring to those calls. “But if you look at

Hip-Hop’s past and present,” contends Smooth, “it’s the rappers who bring a

swagger that’s grounded in virtuosity—the ones who combine technical skills and

style; the ones whose lyrical construction has some thought to it and some

swing to it—that usually make the most money for the longest.” This

“free-market Hip-Hop” operation, as I’ve termed it in past times, certainly

benefits a few bottom feeders temporarily, but, in due time, the foundations

would shake and surrender, and the ground beneath would swallow up everything

in sight. It is, to borrow Jay Smooth’s words, the “subprime mortgage of

Hip-Hop.” It’s the old replaceable,

expendable, disposable deal.

One hit wonders

get a little shine like flashlights/

But when I drop

the bomb and explode like gas pipes/

But even if water did turn into wine,

and some younger artists who have better chances at technical schools than

music studios successfully stretch out their 15 minutes to 15 years (and find

out their usefulness weighs more than a mannequin’s), nothing steals one’s

pride more than knowing you made it not for merit but the gullibility of young,

White fans lacking any reference point to the history of the music they listen

to. Very little worth celebrating knowing you convinced pre-teen White fans

raised on Britney Spears your music is dope. There’s a certain something separating vain voyeurism from

critical listenership. And if 90% of Hip-Hop fans between 9 and 18 practiced

the latter more often, many-a-rapper today would have to relearn how to fill

out employment applications and apply for government subsidies.

One from a

thousand speaks in his own voice/

The other 999

imitate without choice/

Once upon a time, Black artists could

buy sympathy with the public for their ignorance by passing the buck onto the

easiest target invented by Black Americans. The

cracker made me do it, they cried. If

it was up to me, I would drop science and ancient math on how our history was

stolen, our music hijacked, and our labor capitalized upon to build a

prosperous nation. I would make the heavens sing and hell’s angels wail from

the fury of my political rage. But, you see, the bald, White middle-aged

college dropout in the green T-shirt tucked into his blue khaki jeans threatened

last week to abandon me on “the shelf” if I failed to come up with a jingle and

an accompanying crypto-minstrel dance routine. And the rent’s due; babies need

food. So, don’t blame me, blame the White man.

It worked for a while; we

lapped up the tales of exploitation, and threatened to march the troops over

the red sea into freedom land. But, suddenly, some of us began taking closer

looks at the antics of some of our beloved rappers, after which we concluded

more was at stake than mere coercion. We discovered some rappers find the

titillating thrill of stupidity irresistible—that they would rather throw some

d’s, make it rain, and superman dat hoe than craft serious rhymes to address

the complex problems staring us down. And with artists like these, who needs rapacious

record label executives?

Most of these artists come, and I don’t

mind saying it, from the South. Pardon me, but Political Correctness would have

to go hunting with Dick Cheney on this one. Yes, the South is no monolith. Yes,

not all Southern rappers have made an art-form of illiteracy. Yes, the

diversity, complexity, and novelty of the whole region must be brought to bear,

lest we feast on the carcasses of our own credibility. But no other region in

Hip-Hop history harbors a concentrated collection of artists who proudly brag

of lyrical laziness and laissez-faire wackness—Andre 3000, Little Brother,

Scarface, Devin the Dude, Z-Ro, Bun B, T.I., Jay Electronica notwithstanding.

If East Coast elitism exists, so does Southern sterility.

From the South, we see a broader portrait

of the world today—where instancy rules, and a speed-drive toward social death

looms large. This concept, that braininess and hard work pays little off,

certainly finds expression in venues other than Hip-Hop. And Waka didn’t blaze the

trail. Since 2007, President Obama has faced his share of Right-wing thuggery

for sounding too professorial—essentially for enunciating with eloquence, for

actually recognizing consonants and vowels for what they are. His harebrained

antagonists desire more the hopelessly unintelligible “Joe the Plumber” than a

“professor of law standing at the lectern.”

But the battle for the soul of Hip-Hop

rages on. And perhaps Waka Flocka is but a mere angel dispatched to keep fans,

critics, and artists abreast of the plentiful army descending over the

horizon—an army of new-age rappers whose fascination with lyricism would

squeeze out blood from a penny.


Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on AllHipHop.com, TheDailyVoice.com and other online journals. He can be reached at: